Later this month, Orna Shurani of Nahariya will celebrate her 84th birthday. For this particular woman, birthdays are a time of serious reflection as she risked her life on numerous occasions between 1944 and 1945 to save 27 Jewish men from Nazi persecution in Hungary. At several different points during that period, Orna was certain that she would not see her next birthday.
Now, so many years later, Orna is a recognized Righteous Among the Nations, a privilege that has earned her the right to live out her golden years in Israel surrounded by friends and family – a happy ending she could never have imagined. Born Erna Csizmadia in Hungary in 1928, Orna was the youngest of three sisters. The Csizmadia family was very close and Orna's older sisters, Olga and Malvina, were very protective of her.
Upon the Nazi invasion of Hungary in 1944, a work camp was established next door to the Csizmadia family's home. The day the fence for the camp was constructed, Malvina climbed a tree in the garden in order to converse with the Jews on the other side. She asked if there was anything she could do to help, and a man requested her assistance in mailing his letters. From that point forward, the Csizmadia family helped the Jewish workers in whatever ways they could. In addition to supplying the workers with food and necessities, the family home became the Jews' connection to the outside world. The Csizmadias brought them newspapers, transferred mail and even hosted relatives of those in the camp.
With the advance of the Russian army, the Csizmadias feared the Nazis would kill everyone or take them to a concentration camp. They decided to find hiding places for as many workers as they could. When the time came, Orna, her mother and her sisters escorted the men to hiding places on nearby farms. At great risk to their own lives, the Csizmadias brought food to the men daily and moved them from hiding place to hiding place until the area was liberated.
After the war, both Orna and Olga converted to Judaism, married men they had rescued, and moved to Israel. Malvina and their mother joined them in Israel a few years later. Prior to her death in the summer of 2006, Olga lived in Akko where she spent her time visiting with family and watching sports. Malvina, who passed away in 2010, lived in Nahariya. She has three grandsons, all of whom served in elite units in the IDF. When her youngest grandson was drafted, he visited Yad VaShem in uniform and gave his first salute to his grandmother's tree in the Avenue of the Righteous Among the Nations.
Until 2006, Orna lived in a house in Nahariya close to her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren – these four generations of women were truly inseparable. During the Second Lebanon War, Orna’s house in Nahariya suffered two direct rocket hits. Orna suffered a stroke two weeks later and has still not fully recovered. She now resides in a nursing home not far from her original home. Though ATZUM had been in contact with Orna prior to these traumas, once it became clear that Orna would need continued medical care, and would be away from her family much of the time, the organization activated its resources. ATZUM works to ensure that Israel's resident "Righteous Gentiles" live out their last years in comfort and dignity. It is ATZUM that now “stands in” for Orna's family, and provides her with those life's needs beyond the basic necessities provided by Israeli social welfare – such as professional caretakers, geriatric treatments, and visits by Israeli "adoptive grandchildren."
“With any luck, Orna will celebrate many more birthdays with her family and friends and will continue to be a source of inspiration for Jews everywhere,” said a volunteer.